italy protest family day gay unions.jpg
Photograph: EPA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO

The Italian parliament was expected Wednesday to give its final seal of approval on a landmark bill which is set to end Italy's status as the last Western European nation not allowing gay unions.

Rome authorities have long faced calls to change the status quo, including from their constitutional court and the European Court of Human Rights. However, past reforms attempts have been stymied by the Catholic Church and conservative politicians.

"We should make it by the late afternoon. Before dinner time, Italy will have a law on civil partnerships," Roberto Natale, a spokesman for the speaker of the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, told dpa.

The centre-left government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for a vote of confidence on the legislation, effectively guaranteeing its approval, because Renzi can count on a solid majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

The law, which Italy's two houses of parliament have been considering since June 2013, grants same-sex couples similar rights to married ones in terms of inheritance, housing and pension rights and hospital visits, and also allows them to take on the same surname.

It originally included a so-called stepchild adoption clause, allowing gay persons to adopt the children of their partners, but it was excised on the insistence of centrists in the ruling coalition, led by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano.

The final compromise disappointed gay rights activists, but still represents a major reform for a country with a traditionally conservative approach to family affairs.

In January, nationwide pro- and anti-reform rallies each attracted more than 1 million people, according to their organizers, yet Catholic groups which mobilized against the bill won no direct endorsement from Pope Francis.

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